A richly-appointed yet spartan room with no windows, and soft, muted, indirect lighting. A lone figure sits behind a large, immaculately clean desk. He's distracted for a moment, and when he looks up again, finds himself no longer alone in the room.

"I trust no one saw you, Blackheart."

"Very amusing... they saw what I wished them to see. Nothing more."

"Of course not. Now. What did YOU see? And what did you hear? Tell me everything...."

* * *

The offices of St. Louis Area Night Times, a.k.a. the SLANT, are completely dark, except for a single light in the office of Erica Chase, who is working extremely late. The feature she came in to write is long-since finished, but she's still here, searching a few choice paranormal newsgroups, and occasionally muttering and cursing softly as she comes up empty-handed yet again. "...can't believe he's trying this again...buncha nut-jobs like last time...St. Louis Allied Metahumans...who is this bitch, anyway...breaking into my office...HOLY SHIT!!!" Finally, some information, although not quite what Erica expected.

Chase stares at her computer, not quite sure what to think. It all makes sense now—the barely concealed accent, the wild fringe on her costume, even the good-natured offer to provide story leads.

Giggling with fatigue, she thinks to herself, Steel Claw, you are such an idiot. Oh hell, you're on your own, you can figure this one out yourself. Finally Erica can't help herself, and laughs out loud in the dark, empty office. "She not a lesbian, she's a fucking CANADIAN!!!"

* * *

A dark, malodorous alley, nowhere in particular

"The Syndicate tried to recruit that SLIME???" Steel Claw dropped his informant to the ground in disbelief. "How? When did this happen?"

His Favorite Snitch decided lying in the gutter was an improvement over dangling in Steel Claw's grip, and gave up a few scraps. "Two nights ago, out in Earth City. I don't whose idea it was, but they offered to cure him. He didn't want to be cured, though. He took off. With one of our agents. I think he might be crazy, you know?"

"I know. Get lost, worm." Steel Claw had an uneasy feeling about this. Typical Second Syndicate bullshit recruiting pitch—a "cured" Deliquesser would be useless to them; he'd been smart to refuse their offer. Which was worse: a smart Deliquesser on his own, or a gullible Deliquesser working for the Syndicate? In any event, Earth City was way outside Deliquesser's usual haunts. Steel Claw needed confirmation. Tracking down Hardball didn't take long—not that having a common enemy made them any happier to see each other.

"You'd better make this quick—I'm busy."

"Deliquesser. Where'd you last see him?"

"Oh, that. Saw a fresh slime trail two nights ago underneath Soulard, but I couldn't find him."

"Dammit. Listen, Hardball, are you sure? The Syndicate tried to recruit him two nights ago in Earth City. That's a hell of a long way from Soulard."

"Yes, I'm sure. So what, now you think he can split himself in half, be in two places at once or something?"

"No, it's much worse than that. I think he's contagious."

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